It all starts with the art I make. Because if I lose sight of that then everything else becomes meaningless. The only reason it is possible for me to make a living from my art is that there are people out there who find something special in it, something that resonates with them and ultimately something worth paying for. So, while this blog will talk about marketing and business and how to use basic principles to help grow and develop your business as an artist it all starts with what you create in the solitude of your own studio, with the door closed and the big bad commercial world locked outside.
It’s a tricky balancing act, but just as you cannot expect to make a living from your art if you do not put the time and effort into building your business as an artist, you cannot expect to make great art if you don’t give yourself the time to develop as an artist. To manage both takes planning….planning is what good business is based on. See, already we can see the benefit of taking a business approach!
My own philosophy for building a long term, successful career as an artist takes in a little business planning, a whole lot of marketing and most importantly an ability to create work that resonates with people. And in the time honoured tradition of business and marketing consultants, I too have a simple set of steps that I live by and would highly recommend. (Why is it always 10 steps?)
An artist’s 10 step guide to developing a long term, viable career:
1. Create great work
This is where it all starts. Without good work you can’t expect to create a successful career or business. You need to be very clear about what it is you are making, and who you are making it for.
2. Get to know your market
Once you understand your own work and what you have to offer its time to start finding a market for it. As with every other business you need to find out as much as you can about your market – locally, nationally, internationally. You need to stay in touch with new developments, how the economy is affecting it, etc.
Some questions you should be asking yourself are - how big is the market, who is buying art, who is selling, who are your competition (who is producing work similar to yours) and what sort of prices are they getting for their work? Who do you want your audience oto be? Where does your work fit in the art marketplace, what type of spaces do you want your work to be seen in?
3. Get to know your marketplace
I define the art marketplace as anywhere your work can be placed on public view. These can be broken into 3 distinct groups:
1. Public exhibition spaces – e.g. public galleries, museums, libraries, open submission competitions, etc
2. Commercial gallery spaces – these can range from local framing galleries up to international galleries.
3. Direct access spaces – anywhere people can come to you directly to see your work e.g. your studio, art fairs, your website etc.
The better your knowledge of both your market and your marketplace the better your chances of making the right decisions for your work.
4. Develop a simple business plan
A what? I’m an artist, I don’t do business plans! Well now is the time to start but it can be as simple as answering a few questions. Where do you want to be in 1 , 3 and 5 years? Having a well thought out vision for yourself really helps keep you focused.
What do you expect to earn from your work in 12 months? In what months will the money come in? How will you manage in the months when nothing is coming in?
How much work do you need to sell in order to meet your targets? How much work do you need to make in order to sell that amount? – if you can sell even 50% of what you make you are doing really well, but that means you need to make twice as much as you hope to sell!
Ok, I apologise, so maybe some of these questions aren’t that easy after all. But this is the real world for any artist hoping to live off their work and they need to be answered honestly – if you want to be honest with yourself.
5. Create opportunities for people to view your work - Create Fans!
Now you have some targets and goals to meet, you have a good understanding of your market and marketplace, and Featured in you’ve thought about the type of audience you want for your work. The next step is to create as many potential customers of your work as you can. You do this by creating fans. And you create fans by generating as many opportunities as possible for people to view your work.
Fans are people who have made a connection with your work. They have become fans of your work! Fans come in many shapes and sizes…
Admirers – people who simply like your work and may never be in a position to invest in it. But they will champion it!
Art Community Fans - people in a position to help progress your career e.g. media, curators, major collectors, other artists
Future Customers – people who start off as fans and at some point will invest in your work. It could be in 6 months time, it could be 2 years, but they have already committed in their own minds to buying your work at some point in the future.
Actual Customers – This is pretty obvious. It is the people who make such a connection with your work that they are willing to invest in it. Or as the art world likes to call them – Collectors.
No matter what type of fan they are, they all come to your work via the opportunities you have created. Once you stop creating those opportunities, your business, your career will simply die away. Creating new, ongoing opportunities is the single most important thing you can do, other than create the work itself.
Some opportunities I have created in the past 3 months…
Handed out a business card to my Insurance Broker (today!)
Taken out an exhibition space at the Art Fair 09 that saw 8000 people attend over 3 days
Featured in 6 Christmas group exhibitions in December
Held a studio open day in December
Posted new images to my Facebook account
Ran a marketing seminar for other artists
Updated my website with new images and new content
Set up an account with Linkedin and joined a number of groups
Handed out a business card to journalist friend of a friend that I met in January.
Booked solo exhibition for April
Commissioned an online video documentary for my website
Created some slideshow videos of my work and posted them on Youtube
Handed out a business card to the manager of a new arts centre in Dublin
Sold 25 paintings (the best opportunities you can create are through your paying customers)
How many opportunities have you created this month?
6. Make it easy for your potential fans to “Connect” with your work, and with you.
If someone sees your work for the first time – due to one of the many opportunities you have created – and decides that they really like what they see, then there is a good chance that they will be interested in seeing more. You must be ready take advantage of that. And in 2010 that means having an engaging, professional website that people can visit at their leisure. That can be your gallery’s website but ideally it will be your own website or blog, one that offers a rich and rewarding experience to the viewer. Remember, if someone has taken the time to search you out online then you have already made quite an impact on them, so your website is your one big chance to really allow people to “connect” with you and your work. Social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace can be useful places to show your work but they do not offer they same professional experience to the viewer.
I really believe that the opportunities you create up to this point have one simple objective - to drive people to your website. In 2010 having an engaging website and a strong online presence is fundamental to developing a successful and viable business as an artist.
Up to 12 months ago I would judge the success or otherwise of a year by a) the amount of pieces I sold and b) the amount of new contacts I was able to add to my mailing list. These were easy to quantify and easy to measure. I could also get a good feel for the general reaction to my work by talking to my galleries or meeting potential customers myself at the art fairs. What I wasn’t measuring was the number of people that visited my website.
That all changed when I set up Google Analytics and started to measure the traffic to my website. What I began to see, pretty quickly, was a steady stream of daily visits coming from Ireland and worldwide. I was getting an average of 10 visits a day, about 2500 visits in a year. I was amazed. Here were people going online and either searching for me or else typing my website in directly – which was mostly the case. It made me realise just how important my website was. It was my “shop window”, my connection point. Here were 2500 opportunities for people to see my work and make that connection with it. It changed my entire way of thinking about my website from that point on and I began to explore ways of making it more personal, more engaging, more rewarding for the viewer. I am still looking for ways to improve it but I am already seeing the benefits. In future posts I will be outlining in detail some of the approaches and tools I have used to help build my online presence.
7. Wait for “Connections” to turn into actual customers over time
In my experience if you can get people to really connect with your work – get them “hooked” - then it can be just a question of having patience - at some point they are very likely to invest in you. It could be a €100 print, it could be a €1000 painting, it could be a place on one of your workshops. The challenge is to create something that someone just can’t walk away from!
I sold 2 paintings this week to a collector that saw my work for the first time about 2 years ago at an Art Fair. She was very taken by some of my work and let me know before she left. She had connected with it, she had seen something in it that made her stop and want to find out more. I took her contact details and gave her one of my cards. Over the intervening two years she came to some more of my exhibitions and would regularly visit my website to see what I was working on. Last week I got an email from her, she wanted to come to the studio to buy something. And so I sold 2 paintings. The sale took two years to happen but the connection was made the very first time I met her at the art fair.
The art world can move very, very slowly. It can take people many viewings before committing to investing in an artist. In the advertising world it’s said that a person needs to see or hear a new message 7 times before they will finally act on it. In my experience that’s how it works in the art world also.
8. Nurture your customers.
Your customers, your clients, your collectors – the people who invest in your work and in your career – are the people that will help you grow and develop your business as an artist. They are the most important people you will deal with in the course of your career – not the galleries, not the media, not the arts community – and you must try to bring them with you at all times and make them know they are your top priority. As with all businesses your existing customers are where most of your new business will come from – it could be through new sales, recommendations, the championing of your work, introducing your work to new people.
Offer special discounts, private previews of upcoming exhibitions, studio visits, etc. Keep your customers updated on your plans and successes.
9. Review your business plan
Think of your business plan as your map, you need to refer to it every now and then to make sure you are still on course. If you have been honest with yourself when putting it together in the first place and based it on real expectations and not fantasy projections then it becomes a really useful tool to help you stay on track.
For example, if you had planned for a certain income coming in the first 3 months of the year and it doesn’t come in then you have to find a way of making that up in the remaining 9 months. The fact that you had a plan in the first place means that you can react quickly when things don’t look like they are going all well as you had hoped.
At the end of every year I do a complete review of my business plan – ie my annual cashflow projections – and use this to help plan the next year.
10. Go back to step 1 and repeat all 10 steps again.
It’s a never ending cycle. You create good work, you review your market and marketplace to see where you want to be in the coming months, you create a business plan that will allow you meet your goals for the year, and you start creating the opportunities that will bring people to see your work..If you create enough opportunities and have made it easy for people to connect with you and your work then some of those connections will turn into sales and customers. Customers that you will want to look after, because they are what are most important to you.
And that’s it, one artist’s guide to developing a viable career and making a living through their work.
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